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NASA has created the world’s first copper rocket engine part through the new technology of 3D printing. The combustion chamber liner was constructed using GRCo-84, which is a copper alloy created by the scientists at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
8,255 layers of copper power were used to produce the rocket part as tit was fused through the use of a laser melting machine. Prior to the production of the liner, NASA worked on several different test parts and characterized the material for 3D printing processing parameter evaluation. In addition, a process was made for additive manufacturing with copper which, according to NASA, reduces costs of manufacturing rocket components.
The copper liner will be a part of NASA’s low cost upper stage-class propulsion project and will be fortified in the Langley Research Center with an electron beam that will direct deposit a nickel super-alloy covering onto the surface of the copper liner. The technology of producing copper parts via 3D printing is one that NASA hopes will assist in continuing NASA’s journey to Mars. The extreme cold propellants in the rocket combustion chambers are heated to high temperature to propel the rockets into space.
On the inside of the copper liner, the temperatures can reach over 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, in which melting is prevented through recirculating gases cooled to less than 100 degrees above absolute zero on the other side of the wall. In order to achieve this, over 200 channels must be built between the inner and outer liner wall. These small channels along with extremely complicated internal geometries served as a challenge to NASA’s additive manufacturing team.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more commonly known as NASA, is the United State government entity that is responsible for the civilian space program along with aeronautics and aerospace research. With over 18,000 employees the agency has succeeded in multiple space missions since 1915.
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